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  • Writer's pictureMark Vogel

Untermyer Park and Gardens: A Pleasant Place to Be Lost in Yonkers

Yonkers, New York

Untermyer Park and Gardens in Yonkers, New York
Untermyer Park and Gardens in Yonkers, New York

I recently discovered a beautiful park located very close to New York City. Untermyer Park and Gardens in Yonkers, New York, is a hidden gem in Westchester County. This 43-acre park, a fragment of Samuel Untermyer's extensive 150-acre Greystone estate, combines rich history with stunning horticultural designs.

The Untermyer Gardens Conservancy, a non-profit organization, plays a crucial role in the revival and maintenance of Untermyer Park and Gardens. Founded in 2011 by Stephen F. Byrns, the Conservancy collaborates with the City of Yonkers to restore Samuel Untermyer's renowned gardens. The gardens, created in 1917 by Samuel and Minnie Untermyer, are a blend of exceptional horticulture, monumental architecture, and multicultural design, set against the majestic backdrop of the Hudson River.

“Untermyer's vision lives on and is a must-visit for anyone interested in horticulture, history, or simply seeking a peaceful retreat.”

Samuel Untermyer's life story is a remarkable tale of ambition, intellect, and passion. Born in Virginia in 1858, Untermyer moved to New York City post-Civil War. He quickly established himself as a legal powerhouse, founding the law firm Guggenheimer, Untermyer & Marshall.

Untermyer Park and Gardens in Yonkers, New York
Exploring Untermyer Park and Gardens

His influence extended beyond law; Untermyer was a leading figure in the Jewish community and a fervent Zionist. As President of the Keren Hayesod and the Non-Sectarian Anti-Nazi League, he actively opposed Hitler's regime, earning him the title "Hitler's Bitterest Foe" by the British press.

Minnie Untermyer, his wife, was equally influential. Her efforts transformed the New York Philharmonic and promoted poetry and women's suffrage in New York City.

Samuel Untermyer's passion for horticulture led to the creation of the renowned Untermyer Gardens. His expertise in gardening was notable, and he aspired to make these gardens the world's finest. This ambition reflects his lifelong commitment to excellence and societal contribution.

The Greystone estate, pivotal in the history of Untermyer Park and Gardens, has a rich and fascinating past. Its story begins in 1865 when John Waring, owner of the world's largest hat factory at the time, purchased 33 acres from the Bolmer estate. Waring commissioned architect John Davis Hatch to build a grand 99-room mansion on this property, naming it Greystone.

Untermyer Park and Gardens in Yonkers, New York

However, Waring's fortunes took a turn during the financial crisis of 1876, forcing him to sell his factory and move to Boston, leaving Greystone available for rent. In 1879, Samuel J. Tilden, a former governor of New York and a failed presidential candidate, rented and eventually bought Greystone. Tilden was the first resident to actively engage in horticulture at the estate, building thirteen greenhouses for ornamental and practical horticultural purposes.

After Tilden's death in 1886, the property was auctioned, and in 1899, Samuel Untermyer purchased Greystone. Untermyer was deeply passionate about horticulture and envisioned creating the world's finest garden. To realize this dream, in 1916, he hired William Welles Bosworth, a trained architect and landscape designer from the École des Beaux-Arts. Bosworth designed the formal gardens of Greystone, which became a celebrated feature of the estate.

In the 1920s and '30s, Untermyer opened the grounds weekly to the public and for special events, attracting thousands of visitors. On one occasion in 1939, the gardens saw a remarkable 30,000 visitors in a single day. These gardens were also a stage for performances by notable artists. The horticultural quality of the gardens was nationally acclaimed, and it was a training ground for some great gardeners. At its peak, the estate boasted 60 greenhouses and employed 60 gardeners.

Untermyer Park and Gardens in Yonkers, New York

In 1946, sixteen acres of the Greystone estate were conveyed to the City of Yonkers to be used as a public park. After a period of decline, there was significant restoration in the 1970s. However, this revival was short-lived, and the property deteriorated again until the mid-1990s when community leaders persuaded the city to acquire more land, expanding the park to its current size of approximately 43 acres.

The park today features preserved, restored, or re-imagined main features, along with remnants of original features like the Sundial Garden, the Six Color Gardens, and the Rose and Dahlia Garden. The Walled Garden, while conceptually Indo-Persian, incorporates Greek elements in its design, including the Temple of the Sky and an open-air amphitheater with marble sphinxes by sculptor Paul Manship. Architectural elements in the Walled Garden are inspired by Mycenaean motifs, adding to the historical depth and aesthetic appeal of the gardens

Key Park Features:

1. The Walled Gardens: Resembling Indo-Persian paradise gardens, this area is segmented by waterways into quadrants. The central attraction is the Temple of the Sky, an open-air circular structure surrounded by Corinthian columns.

2. The Lower Terrace: This area serves as the foundation for the Walled Garden, featuring beautiful landscaping and offering a serene environment for visitors.

3. The Vista: A grand staircase modeled after Italy's Renaissance-era Villa d'Este descends towards the Hudson River, lined with trees and providing a majestic view.

Untermyer Park and Gardens in Yonkers, New York

4. Vista Overlook: At the end of the Vista, this overlook offers breathtaking views of the Hudson River and the Palisades. It's also known for its proximity to the remnants of a building associated with David Berkowitz, the "Son of Sam" serial killer. He reportedly met there with members of a Satanic cult. This part of the park's history highlights a darker chapter from the 1970s, marked by vandalism and unrest.

5. The Woodland Trail: Winding through the park, this trail offers a more naturalistic experience, with lush greenery and a chance to enjoy local plants and trees.

6. The Temple of Love: A unique rocky structure designed by Carlo Davite, featuring a round temple folly atop a cantilevered base, surrounded by a rock garden with hollowed-out rocks used as planters.

Untermyer Park and Gardens in Yonkers, New York

7. The Rock and Stream Garden: Originally a rock garden, this area has been redeveloped to include a stream running through stones, connecting to the Temple of Love.

Each section of Untermyer Park and Gardens offers a distinct experience, from the manicured elegance of the Walled Gardens to the natural beauty of the Woodland Trail. Untermyer's vision lives on and is a must-visit for anyone interested in horticulture, history, or simply seeking a peaceful retreat.

Visitors Guide

Visitors to Untermyer Gardens can expect a delightful experience, with a few important details to keep in mind for a smooth visit:

1. Location and Hours:

- Untermyer Gardens address: 945 North Broadway, Yonkers, NY 10701.

- The gardens open daily at 9:00 AM and close seasonally: 7:00 PM (May 1 - September 15), 6:00 PM (September 16 - November 4 and March 10 - April 30), and 4:00 PM (November 5 - March 9).

2. Admission and Reservations:

- Admission to Untermyer Gardens is free every day.

- No advance reservations are required for entry.

Untermyer Park and Gardens in Yonkers, New York

3. Pets and Food:

- Dogs, except for ADA-defined service dogs, are not allowed in the gardens.

- Picnicking is not permitted within the garden fencing but is allowed at designated picnic tables outside the Walled Garden.

4. Parking and Public Transportation:

- The garden has free parking spaces for about 75 cars, with additional street parking along North Broadway.

- Accessible via Metro-North (Greystone station) and the Bee Line Bus system.

5. Accessibility:

- There are two designated parking spaces next to the Cola Community Center.

- Paths leading to and within the Walled Garden are flat and covered with fine gravel, and restrooms have handicapped stalls.

Untermyer Park and Gardens in Yonkers, New York

6. Music and Events:

- Enjoy recorded music in the Walled Garden daily at 10:30 AM and 3:30 PM.

- The Grand Holiday Illumination is a notable event, open every night from early December through January 1st.

7. Nearby Amenities:

- Several restaurants are located near Untermyer Gardens.

8. Garden Map and Brochure:

- Visitors can download and print the garden map and brochure for a guided experience.

For a comprehensive and pleasant visit, check out the Untermyer Gardens Conservancy website for the most current information and any special events or changes in operation hours.


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